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How can you take care of your team’s mental health during the uncertainty of war?

Nadezhda Markova, a clinical psychologist talking about how to deal with war anxiety
Image credit: Nadezhda Markova
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Nadezhda Markova is a clinical psychologist and an author at the blog Paths between us. She supports her clients in coping with anxiety, burnout, interpersonal difficulties, and emotional dysregulation through the methods of cognitive-behavioral therapy. Nadezhda is part of the team of specialists at hOUR THERAPY, a service designed to help companies provide quality psychotherapeutic support to their people through individual consultations or group lectures and events.

We, humans, like to be competent. We try to do the best we can. We want to be achievers. We read (and write) “How to…” articles. We plan, delegate, execute. Almost anything we do is about gaining control. We love to have control.

However, the concept of control is often illusionary, and we have been reminded about that quite often these days. First, it was Covid-19. Two years ago, it changed our way of working. As soon as we had begun feeling somewhat confident about work-life during a pandemic, a new challenge came across – a war in Europe. Bringing up surprise, anxiety, and uncertainty. What does this mean for the business? 

Some companies are directly affected by the war (due to Ukrainian employees, change in services, etc.). Many other managers also report an anxious atmosphere in the office due to the unpredictability of the situation. For some, it can become overwhelming, affecting their emotional health, and triggering what has been called “war anxiety”. In times like these, it is normal for every person to show their vulnerabilities. People might seem to be easily distracted, less motivated, agitated, or indifferent. 

So, what can a manager do to help their team handle this challenging period and mitigate “war anxiety”? 

  • Accept things that are beyond you (I know this is easier said than done). We like to think that we work in a predictable environment and if we do the right thing, we will deserve a good life. Realizing there are so many things that don’t depend on you can be frustrating. But the sooner you do it, the faster you’ll be able to redirect important resources (energy, time, etc.) towards things that you could influence and could make a difference in the situation.
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  • Focus on what you can control. Fortunately, there are a few things that you have the power to change. No matter how big the crisis is, you can choose your responses to it. For example, you might decide to set a limit on the time and content of news you are exposed to (so that you don’t feel constantly overwhelmed with shocking information). 

You can set aside time and space for your employees to discuss the news, their feelings, and thoughts. People will have the urge to do it anyway, but when you dedicate time for such discussions, your team would profit from an explicit, more structured, and time-framed conversation. Thomas Hübl, a world-known researcher on collective trauma, states that group discussions about our feelings and thoughts increase the feeling of relatedness and the integration of difficult experience.

Keep things simple and predictable. Everyone is extremely sensitive to uncertainty nowadays. We are all looking for security. Little day-to-day things can help you minimize uncertainty: stick to routines, send an agenda for each talk, end meetings on time, set and follow clear guidelines, practice integrity. All these small steps can help people feel empowered over their own life.

  • Communicate clearly. ​​​​​​​Some companies are directly affected by the war, which leads to even higher levels of anxiety. If so, it is preferable to be explicit and honest about any potential consequences to your business. ​​​​​​This might feel uncomfortable at first, but it creates a feeling of trust and transparency. ​​​​​​​At the same time, don’t be afraid to recognize success, provide positive feedback and be proud of your company’s achievements – your employees may need such encouragement more than ever. 

 

  • Stay connected to normality. Team gatherings, company traditions, coffee breaks with coworkers can promote a spirit of relatedness and support. Although it’s true that some of us might feel guilty for carrying on with our normal life, it’s vital to have a safe harbor where we can connect, enjoy a talk, and share simple joys. After all, taking care of ourselves first is what makes it possible to take care of others. 
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  • Show that you care. In extreme situations like this, simple gestures of humanity mean a lot to employees. You might find it a good idea to donate on behalf of the company or to support refugees from Ukraine. Another option is to provide your employees with opportunities to volunteer if they wish to. 

Show empathy towards your team as well. Remember that feelings of anxiety, anger, helplessness, and sadness are normal (and different people experience them with different intensity). Make self-care a priority for your company, may it be through inviting people to book time slots for down-time (screen-free time, meditation, short walks outside) or by introducing mental health benefits. You might want to check Melissa Doman’s book “Yes, you can talk about mental health at work”. Every crisis is an opportunity for us to connect and show that we care on a deep human level.

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